Working on a Mary heart in a Martha world

That phrase has been my personal motto for several years now; simply because it explains so well who I am at the core. I am all about service, presentation, and impressions. I don’t know if it’s the entertainer or the designer in me, but my desire is to present quality every time – especially with food.

“As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

This story is the story of two sisters. Jesus and his disciples were fellowshipping in the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha – quite possibly for the first time. I can envision the scene so well because it’s one I’m completely familiar with:

Martha is busy making sure everything is just right – she’s preparing food, setting the table, filling the wine glasses, folding the napkins, checking the silver and crystal for spots, baking a few more loaves of bread, seasoning the fish, putting the finishing touches on a honey-oat cake that’ll be served for dessert, and making sure all the figs and olives have been set out for people to nibble on while they’re waiting for dinner. Essentially she’s running around the kitchen like a chicken with it’s head cut off, and she’s stressin’ in a major way.

Meanwhile, Jesus, his disciples, Martha’s brother, Lazarus, probably a few neighbors, and Martha’s younger sister, Mary, are all hangin’ out in the sitting room having a good time. As Martha is scurrying around in the kitchen she catches snippets of their conversations; she can hear the laughter but missed the punchline of the joke; and as the minutes tick by, she’s becoming more and more frustrated by her little sister’s laziness, and seemingly complete abandonment of her expected hostess responsibilities.

In a moment of utter frustration, Martha pastes a forced smile on her face as she barges into the sitting room; probably holding a tray of appetizers and fruit she’s been putting together. Setting the tray down on the coffee table in front of Jesus she throws a sideways glance at Mary – one that only sisters share; and proceeds to throw a temper tantrum – only she doesn’t flail about, but the cold accusation in her voice isn’t missed by anyone. I can hear her now:

“I am so glad you could join us for dinner, Jesus. Please make yourself comfortable and let me know if there’s anything at all I can get you. Dinner is taking a little bit longer than I’d expected – we’re a bit short handed today – but please help yourself to the appetizers. The figs are especially nice this time of year. We should be eating within the hour.”

Poor Martha. I know exactly how she feels at this very moment. And I’m sure Jesus (and everyone else in the room except Mary) caught the jist of her statement. And in his quiet voice, Jesus not only thanks her for her hospitality, but he rebukes her for missing the point of his visit – for her to get to know HIM.

Quite honestly, I doubt if Jesus cared what she served for dinner. I doubt he sat at the dinner table and scrutinized the way the napkins were folded or even took a second look at the silver. He didn’t care if there were three kinds of salad dressing – all served in condiment dishes, or if the rolls were formed in the shape of rosettes. What mattered to him were people. He didn’t come to earth to die for rolls and salad dressing and napkins and silverware. He came to die for us – for you and for me. So I’d bet it’s safe to say that he’s much more concerned with the status of your heart over the condition of your house.

But like Martha, I can get so wrapped up in being busy for God that I forget to pay attention to God. As Christians, it’s easy to become over-involved in the church, or in helping people, or in a ministry area or charity – all in the name of Jesus. Every time a ministry needs help, we find ourselves making one more commitment. And before we know it, we’ve got a schedule full of commitments to good causes. We’re running around in a flurry of activities, and at the end of the day we’re so tired we can’t possibly focus on spending time with God. Service to God replaces our need for God. We stop spending time with him in prayer and worship. We don’t have the energy to read his Word or meditate on his scriptures. And before long our relationship with him begins to suffer greatly.

Martha wasn’t wrong in wanting to be a good hostess for Jesus. She wasn’t wrong in wanting to serve his needs to the best of her abilities. But she was wrong when she put serving him ahead of knowing him.

“Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the opportunities we have to serve you, through service to others. But help us not to forget that knowing you is the ultimate. Allow us to keep our eyes focused on you at all times – even during our busy days – so that we might learn to serve better by knowing who you are and what your plan is. Thank you for the lives of Mary and Martha, and the example they are to me, and thank you for Jesus who puts all things into perspective. It’s in His precious and holy name I pray, amen.”

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